James 1:19-27
The Soul Saving Word From God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Be Quick To Listen


"My beloved brethren, discern carefully. Let each person be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry," (James 1:19).

2. Why does this speech about "anger" appear here in this text? It is because the text writes about trials and temptations in the first half of the chapter. [There are] various hardships and sufferings in reality that befall believers. When experiencing pain, anger will swell up within a person's heart. Especially more so when it is unfair and the other person is definitely the one to bring on the origin of suffering and pain, like in the case of persecution. Then, the swelling anger will start to move the tongue and then it forms a word and it shows itself outside. When the Bible says "be slow to speak" it is first talking in reference to the words of anger above all.

3. But, it is not always exactly clear to me. Is getting angry a sin to do? Should we never put our anger into words? Even if we let an injustice go unmentioned, are we just supposed to sit idly by and never say anything? Even when something is totally outrageously wrong, are we supposed to go along with it? Is this for the sake of the offending party? Is this for the sake of society?

4. This is a really tough question. Actually, there are a lot of injustices and unreasonable things. Recently I experienced a few troubles. Since I didn't deserve any of them, I naturally got mad. "This is preposterous!," I spouted, totally perturbed about it. Even without [these troubles when they come], it seems like there is more than enough to already be mad at in this ol' world of ours. We see and hear so much to get mad at, whether it relates to us personally or to someone else. But, far far in advance before that, today's passage of scripture had already settled on [this issue]. Though I have been mad all week, I had to prepare a sermon from this passage of scripture. I was really in a fix.

5. During this time, I just wanted to say, in spite of myself, "Didn't Jesus himself get mad?" The Bible does say, "Jesus made a whip from some cords, drove all the sheep and cows out from the temple grounds, and scattered the money of the moneychangers, and turned over their stands, and said to those selling doves, 'Carry these things of yours out of here. My father's house will not be made a house of merchants,'" (John 2:15-16). It is the famous passage of "The Temple Cleansing." I wanted to align myself with this passage of scripture. What about all of you out there?

6. But, the words from James continue as follows: "The anger of man does not bring the righteousness of God into fulfillment," (verse twenty). I couldn't help but stop before these words from the Lord. Nobody mad ever thinks "I am wrong" when they are mad. They're mad feeling, "I'm right." But, I would be hard put to answer upon being questioned, "So does your anger now bring the righteousness of God into fulfillment into this world?" Actually, the way I look when I am answering the telephone feeling annoyed is hardly a figure that is about to bring the fulfillment of God's righteousness into this world.

7. I realize this is my case. But, I would think everyone else here is the same way. We feel that we can say that "Getting angry is justifiable." If we can confidently claim, "My anger will be one that brings God's righteousness into fulfillment," then that would be okay. I think we could even make the case, "Didn't even Jesus get mad?" It is acceptable then if we can confidently claim that "My anger is an anger of the same quality as Jesus' anger." But, when we cannot say that, then we can't continue to assert the case for the justification of our anger, but we should instead turn our ears submissively to the words which the Bible gives. The Bible is speaking [to us] as follows: "Let each person be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." I cannot help but hang my head before these words from the Lord.

8. I really do think there is something we're supposed to do as we are in a world where sin is a ruler and unfair things run rampant. But, when our hearts are jammed up full with anger, can we really see what we're supposed to do? I don't think we can see [right]. Therefore, we cannot truly perform our duty. At that point the exhortation to "Be quick to hear" has some major significance for us. We must listen carefully before we speak. When we read the scriptures written after this, it will seem to speak even more than this passage about "we are to listen to the word of God." Above all, we must be quick to listen to God. When our anger is about to control our hearts, when our anger is trying to control our tongues, we first of all must incline our ears to the word of God for us at such [a time].

9. When we thus incline our ears to God's word, more often [than not] we will be able to see. The truth of the matter is that the first thing that must be taken away is not the wrong of the other person, but the wrong within me. Therefore, James says to us who are so quick to anger, "Thus, as you humble yourself cast off every defilement and wickedness that is filling you up and receive the word of God implanted into your heart." This "sin that is filling you up" is not the sin of someone else. It is "the sin that is filling up" inside the person who is angry. We must first deal with and dispose of that sin.

10. Then, we must receive God's word. "God's word is able to save your souls," says James. As I stated last week, the hardships and the sufferings of this world first work as a temptation. They work as a power that pulls a person away from God. When a person is filled with anger, without even knowing it the whole time during it, what happens is that a person is being separated and pulled away from God. When we are brandishing our own righteousness, we may be heading towards destruction within without our realizing it. When anger is put to use by the devil, it first becomes a thing of destruction for the angry person. The word of God is what saves the soul from such a harsh reality. The word of God has the power to save the soul. Therefore, we ought to be "quick to listen."

Become Doers Of God's Word

11. But, we must not be only listening. James adds, "Be doers of God's word. Do not deceive yourself by being a person who stops at only listening," (verse twenty-two).

12. For what reason in particular did James write this? Actually, he not only writes about "works" here, but he develops this theme later expending a great deal of words on it. Why [do you suppose he has written so much on it]? It was because there were so many people obviously "stopping at only listening." That is to say, it was because there were people neglecting at an excessive level this matter of "works."

13. Please look at chapter two and verse twenty-four. The scripture says, "As you will understand with this, a person is made righteous by works and not only through faith." As you read these words, are you not reminded of another statement in the scriptures? It is the statement from Paul of "The justifying of a person does not come from the works of the law, but from faith," (Romans 3:28). It is clear that James was writing fully aware of Paul's statement. Even further than that, more accurately put, I should say that he was "aware of the abuses of Paul's statements."

14. The justifying and the saving of a person is certainly "by faith." Salvation is not a reward for our works. A person is saved "by grace, through faith," (Ephesians 2:8). Even in our faith confession, we express it like this, "God forgives our sin and justifies us, by the faith in which we believe in Christ alone ... " Therefore, it is correct to agree with that.

15. But, as one can easily expect to see, the phrase "by faith," as for those who have accepted it, brings into being a people who take "works" lightly. It actually has produced them. But, that clearly goes against Paul's intentions. Therefore, in reply to this misunderstanding of Paul's words, James found it hard not to say "Faith and works cannot be divided from each other. Faith that does not include works is dead."

16. Regretfully, the church has still remained a place of "listening only" by those who divide faith and works and disregard works. As a result of that, we can read in this epistle that something truly sorrowful has been taking place in the church.

17. Originally when God's word was given and heard during a worship service, it was expected that a demand for obedience to God would always take place in the hearts of the people. Since it is a world in rebellion against God, whenever the word of God is given about this, at the least we'd expect it to be brought to light to the people there listening to it. But, they put the burden of the sermon on others as the ones who are being incited unto obedience. Deceiving themselves with all their might, they won't ever conform [to God's will]. -- Because there is no shortage of expressions to use to deceive oneself: "Hey, everybody's a sinner anyway." "Either way, our sins will be forgiven because of the cross of Christ." "A person isn't made righteous by his or her works anyway." Because that's exactly the way the real world is, James says, "Do not deceive yourself by being a person who stops at only listening."

18. I agree, we should not deceive ourselves. [We should not deceive ourselves] because we really do know the truth. We should know the truth that the reason Christ suffered on the cross, shed his blood, redeemed our sin, and intercedes to God the Father is in order that we do not remain in our sins. We should understand that we should not stop at only listening [to God's word]. Isn't that right? For, we should not deceive ourselves.

19. "Be a doer of God's word." It seems that it was the following words of Jesus, with which we are familiar, that James had on his heart when he had said to be doers of God's word: "Thus, everyone who hears and does these words of mine resembles the wise person who built his house upon the rock. The rains fell down, the rivers flooded, and the winds blew, and though it attacked his house, it did not fall. For, it had a rock for its foundation. Everyone who only hears and does not do these words of mine resembles the foolish person who built his house upon the sand. When the rains fell down, the rivers flooded, and the winds blew and they attacked his house, it fell, and the way it fell was terrible," (Matthew 7:24-27).

20. The Lord knew it all the way that the faith life style, which is missing the living elements of hearing Christ's words and listening obediently to them, was a house build upon the sand, even though it might look so nice, and seem so respectful, and appear so fervent, it would not be able to ultimately bear up to the storms. The Lord does not will that we topple and fall. The Lord wills that our church and our faith life in it be a house built upon the rock. "Be doers of the Word."

Home | Translations | Both J-E | Chapel | Email